(Photo credit: NCAA Wrestling Twitter)

Black Wrestling History and Success on Display Again at the 2023 NCAA Championships

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At the 2021 NCAA wrestling championships, history was made when five Black champions representing three different schools were crowned.

It was a proud moment for Gable Steveson (Minnesota), Aaron Brooks (Penn St.), Carter Starocci (Penn St.), David Carr (Iowa St.) and Roman Bravo-Young (Penn St.).

It was also a moment to reflect on the history made that day and the history of Black wrestling that preceded it.

That history began with Harold Henson in 1949. Two years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball, the 136-pound Henson drove to Colorado and made history as the first Black man to compete at the national wrestling championships.

While the San Diego State wrestler didn’t place at the event, he secured his place in history and opened the doors for others like Simon Roberts, Arthur Baker, Bobby Douglas, Kenny Monday, Daniel Cormier and Jordan Burroughs to follow through.

That history was on display again at the 2022 championships and again last night at the 2023 championships in Tulsa, home to Black history through the Greenwood District, otherwise known as Black Wall Street.

Last year, Steveson finished his college career with both an Olympic gold medal and back-to-back NCAA 285 lbs. titles. This year, the other four wrestlers returned to the championships for another title shot.

Roman Bravo-Young has been a dominant force in the 133 lbs. division since arriving at Penn State in 2018. As a freshman, he placed eighth at the NCAA championships and became an All-American. The pandemic forced the cancellation of the NCAA tournament in 2020 but when it returned in 2021, Roman asserted himself in the division.

He won his first NCAA title that year and defended his title in 2022 as a senior. With another year of eligibility due to the pandemic, Roman returned this season as a grad student. A five-time All-American and two-time NCAA champion, Bravo-Young (20-0) made it back to the finals riding a 56-match win streak, the longest active winning streak in the country. While he didn’t secure his third consecutive title, finishing second to Cornell’s Vito Arujau, Roman secured his place in Penn State and NCAA wrestling history as one of the best to do it at 133 lbs.

Roman wasn’t the only Nittany Lion on the mat Saturday night as teammates Carter Starocci and Aaron Brooks were also defending their titles.

At 174 lbs., Starocci has dominated since redshirting his freshman year. He won his first NCAA title in 2021, and last year, he went 23-0 and ultimately defended his title by defeating Mekhi Lewis of Virginia Tech in a thrilling match. This year the junior and 2x All-American wasted no time and became a 3x NCAA champion by pinning Nebraska’s Mikey Labriola in the first round.

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